UK elms – ‘not out of the woods yet’


Colin Tudge, the author of The Secret Life of Trees, is invited by the UK’s Telegraph newspaper to give his reaction to efforts to breed a Dutch elm disease-resistant species.

Library image from Take CoverIt’s an interesting read as he gives his reaction to this battle with nature, so here it is:

Could the English elm, so sadly laid low by Dutch elm disease, make a comeback? Paul King, who breeds trees at Raine in Essex, is on the case. Nearly 25 years ago he acquired cuttings from a few mature trees. He has now multiplied the tissues to produce a whole new generation of young elms that seem to be resistant (and are on sale for £120 apiece). Scientists at the Forestry Commission’s research centre in Surrey welcome his initiative – they are on the case, too – but are cautious. Resistance, they point out, is a tricky business.

The English elm, Ulmus procera, is probably not a “true” native – Britain has only 39 “truly” native trees – and was most likely introduced by Neolithic farmers from south-east Europe, via Spain. But it is an honorary citizen, treasured for its usefulness and its looks, favourite of landscape painters, notably of Constable; a tree of open woodland but just as happy in hedgerows where, if it was left alone, it flourished by the tens of millions. In the West Country it was known as “the Wiltshire weed”.

The first sign of trouble came in 1910 when the fungus Ophiostoma ulmi, a distant and degenerate cousin of the truffle, started killing trees in mainland Europe. It acquired its name, Dutch elm disease, in 1921 because it was first properly researched in Holland. It arrived in Britain by 1927 and looked very nasty. Happily, the disease died down by the Forties, after killing 10 to 40 per cent of our elms. Dr Tom Pearce of the Forestry Commission predicted, in 1960, that such a thing should not happen again – unless, he added, “the fungus completely changes its present trend of behaviour”.

Which it duly did. A new, closely related species of Ophiostoma appeared in North America – Ophiostoma novo-ulmi. It arrived in Britain in 1967 on imported logs, and throughout the Seventies and into the Eighties it killed about 25 million out of about 30 million elms, including most of the particular English species, Ulmus procera.

Dutch elm disease has all the biological attributes needed to be thoroughly nasty. It is one of the many “wilt diseases” of trees, which spread through the vessels of the xylem and block them. The spores are carried passively with wonderful efficiency in the sap, through the whole tree, and spread via the roots of separate trees that are often joined underground. The spores don’t live long once the tree has died and so should die out as their host succumbs – but they have a trump card: they are carried from tree to tree and from forest to forest by flying bark beetles of the genus Scolytus.

There is some innate resistance among the world’s many species of elm. The Ophiostoma fungus probably arose in Asia, so the Asian elms have evolved in its presence – and have developed considerable resistance. Breeding programmes are afoot in Europe to introduce genes from Asian species into European types by various means – and may yet succeed. Meanwhile, as Paul King has found, even within susceptible species, such as Ulmus procera, there will usually be some resistant strains. If they can be bred, perhaps we will have a new resistant strain.

So why the caution? Well, for one thing, it depends what the tree is really resistant to: the fungus or its insect vector? Paul King’s new trees are probably not resistant to the fungus itself, but are simply less palatable to the beetle. Of course, the fungus can’t usually infest the tree without the beetles – but it surely would be better to be specifically equipped with genes that would protect it even if beetles did get in.

The sad tale of Britain’s elms parallels that of the American chestnut, Castanea dentata – with some intriguing contrasts. For the American Indians and for the first immigrant Europeans, the American chestnut was a wonder tree. Its nuts were a food staple – and supported 40 million wild turkeys for good measure – and its trunks provided timber. There were so many that a squirrel could travel from chestnut to chestnut from Maine to Georgia without setting foot on the ground, or so the story went.

But the overconfident forestry “improvers” of the 19th century were still not content. They began to import Asian species with bigger nuts, to crossbreed. Inevitably, the newcomers came with their own diseases. And the American chestnuts, beset by novel pathogens, succumbed. By the end of the Twenties, the American chestnut, once perhaps the commonest North American broadleaf, was all but gone.

Again, through too much zeal, the Americans felled great swathes of chestnuts to create a firewall against the spread of infection. This failed to contain the disease – but it did, so some biologists suggest, remove the myriad genetic variations from among the wild trees, which might have included some that would have conferred resistance.

By leaving our own beleaguered elms to live on in the hedges, and nurturing the few survivors, as Paul King and others have been doing, we may avoid that final fate. (In truth, the American chestnut might not quite be dead. At least, George W Bush planted one outside the White House on Arbor Day in 2005 – but it is a hybrid: 15 per cent of its genes are from resistant Asian species. It is a sad relic, like an exhumed dodo).

Overall, the message is mixed. We could see the heroic efforts of a few growers and scientists as a triumph of human ingenuity over natural adversity – the continuing tale of “man’s conquest of nature”. Or we could see this endeavour as a desperate, last-ditch attempt to ward off the consequences of our own folly. For these are tales of hubris. We thought we could do what we liked in the name of commerce. But actually, life is more complicated than we ever supposed – and in the end, it is beyond our ken. Cause and effect relationships in nature are non-linear, which means it is intrinsically impossible to predict the outcome, beyond saying it won’t be good.

Source: Telegraph newspaper

Date: 09/06/2010

Wales to update its ancient woodlands map


Forestry Commission Wales has announced plans to update the nation’s Ancient Woodland Inventory.

Take Cover library image In a press release, the commission said that these habitats, which date back to at least the 17th Century, “support many species of plants and wildlife that depend on the evolving but continuous environments created by dead and dying wood and broken sunlight”.

It added that the inventory was first produced about 30 years ago, and since then, technology for gathering data had improved dramatically and better sources of information had come to light.

The update, which will be carried out over the next 12 months, will identify former ancient woodlands that have subsequently been planted with conifer trees to satisfy the demand for timber over many decades.

These woodlands are known as Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS).

This information will guide decisions on restoring some of the PAWS to their natural state by removing non-native trees and planting native broadleaf species such as oak, birch, rowan and ash.

“Such work helps to increase the variety of different plant and wildlife species in the woodland by improving habitats and providing food and shelter,” the commission explained.

Wood pastures – ancient and veteran trees found on grazed sites – will also be systematically recorded as part of the update to the inventory.

Despite the ecological value of wood pasture, it has no legal protection, so identification on the inventory may help protect these sites from damage or destruction.

The concept of  “ancient woodland” was developed in the 1970s and 1980s, when studies showed that woodlands that have had a continuous woodland cover for centuries were typically of higher nature conservation value than those that had developed recently.

The baseline date of 1600 AD was adopted because reasonable maps were available from this time (in England, at least).

But the commission admitted that it was an arbitrary date, and there was no clear ecological cut-off.

Michelle van Velzen, forestry and environment policy and programme manager at Forestry Commission Wales, said: “Ancient woodlands are a precious and finite resource that cannot be recreated.

“This update to the Ancient Woodland Inventory will ensure we have the most comprehensive and accurate information on the extent and nature of ancient woodlands in Wales.”

The update to the inventory will be completed in March 2011 and the new information will be supplied to local authorities for their use when developing planning policy that affects woodland.

Source: Forestry Commission Wales press release

Date: 11/06/2010

Oak disease ‘threatens British landscape’


The continuing spread of a deadly disease that affects the UK’s native oak trees is causing concern among tree professionals and conservation groups.

Take Cover library photoThe BBC’s environment reporter Mark Kinver writes that Acute Oak Decline (AOD), caused by a bacterial infection, can kill an infected tree in just a few years.

Some tree experts are comparing AOD to Dutch elm disease, which killed millions of trees throughout the UK during the 1970-80s.

They said extra funds for more research into the disease were urgently needed.

Although AOD has been confirmed in 55 cases, the number of trees displaying symptoms was steadily increasing, delegates at the Royal Forestry Society’s (RFS) annual conference were told.

The disease affects the UK’s two native species of oak – sessile and pedunculate. To date, there have been no confirmed cases in other species of oaks found in Britain, such as Turkey and red oaks.

‘Extensive bleeding’

Information from Forest Research, the scientific department of the UK Forestry Commission, says the new disease affects oaks more than 50 years old.

Symptoms are “extensive stem bleeding” in which dark fluid seeps from small cracks in the bark and runs down the tree trunk.

In early stages of the disease, the health of a tree’s canopy does not appear to be affected, but it may become thinner as the tree succumbs to AOD.

On its website, Forest Research says: “The incidence of AOD in Britain is unquantified at this stage, but estimates put the figure at a few thousand affected trees.

“The condition appears to be most prevalent in the Midlands and investigations to determine the extent of the disorder are under way.”

A spokesman told BBC News: “Forest Research pathologists have isolated a previously unidentified bacterium they believe is highly likely to be playing a key role in the Acute Oak Decline observed in Leicestershire and elsewhere.

“However, the full cause of the condition is thought likely to be complex, involving a number of factors besides the bacterium. A research report is currently awaiting peer review.”

‘Major threat’

Tree organisations are calling for more funding to be made available to allow researchers to better understand the full impact of the disease.

John Jackson, the organiser of the RFS’s conference, said: “Urgent action is not an option – it’s a necessity.”

Hilary Allison, policy director for the Woodland Trust, added: “The impact of the loss of an iconic tree both from our countryside and towns would be catastrophic, and therefore has the capacity to be a major threat to the UK’s oak woods.”

“I have never seen anything like it,” said Peter Goodwin, co-founder of Woodland Heritage.

“Its spread over the last two years has been quite alarming.”

Mr Goodwin told BBC News that very little was known about the virulent bacteria responsible for the disease.

“We’ve never had a bacterium that is capable of doing what this one is doing.”

He suggested that people were possibly the main way in which the disease was spread from tree to tree, but added that “natural vectors” – such as squirrels, birds and insects – could also play a role.

“I think this is the worrying thing, we all want to know what are the vectors that is spreading it. Is it airborne? We just don’t know.”

Forest Research advises people working in affected areas to take appropriate measures to limit the chances of AOD being carried to new sites.

“The most important thing we can do in this and other cases is to research and understand the causes so that we can provide appropriate management advice for tree owners and woodland managers,” the spokesman added.

“It is also important that we remain vigilant against accidentally importing new and damaging pests and diseases from outside Great Britain.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 28/04/10

UK’s Woodland Trust to plant a million trees


The Woodland Trust is to plant around a million trees on several sites across the UK to protect the “UK’s equivalent of the rainforest”,  reports Horticulture Week.

“The Plant a Tree appeal will help us plant around a million trees at five key sites across the UK, with others to come in the future,” said conservation officer Fran Hitchinson.

“The trees will buffer ancient woodland, protecting these irreplaceable sites — the UK’s equivalent of the rainforest — and thereby increase their ecological resilience.”

The trust’s 350-hectare Heartwood Forest woodland, near St Albans, will protect three ancient woods allowing wildlife to move and thrive, she added.

Low Burnhall in Durham will be bulked out by 80,000 trees to help conserve the ancient trees and create and shelter for wildflower meadows.

While Milton Woods, at the gateway to the Scottish Highlands in Stirling, will see over 180,000 trees planted to create wildlife havens for otters, owls and wading birds.

The Woodland Trust wants people to donate £15 for a tree to be planted and nurtured for 12 years.

Those who give money will be sent updates and pictures.

Source: Horticulture Week

Date: 01/05/2009

Welsh woodlands to fight climate change


Climate change experts from across Europe will be seeing how the Welsh woodlands are already helping to alleviate the effects of climate change, says a press release from the UK Forestry Commission.

Researchers in Wales are putting in place exciting new ways in which the forests can help prevent flooding as well as locking away millions of tons of carbon dioxide.

Leading members of the new FUTUREforest project will be taken on a fact-finding tour of south Wales on 26-27 March, 2009.

The mission is part of the project’s remit to share experiences and new methods of environmental management to prepare the forests of Europe for climate change.

Specialists from the other six partner regions – Auvergne, France (biodiversity); Brandenburg, Germany (knowledge transfer); Bulgaria (soil protection); Catalonia (natural risks); Latvia (timber production); Slovakia (carbon sequestration) will see some of the effects of climate change on Welsh forests – and some of the solutions in and around Abergavenny.

They will see how woody debris dams, new woodland creation and other flood risk management techniques in the uplands can help to prevent the kind of flooding that has caused millions of pounds worth of damage across Wales.

The 30 strong delegation will be staying at The Hill Education & Conference Centre, Abergavenny, and visiting Forestry Commission Wales woodland sites at Mynydd Du, Usk College and the Woodland Trust’s Great Triley Wood.

“We have already begun to discover much about the way the woodlands of Europe can help us to combat climate change,” said Mike Over, Project Manager of the FUTUREforest project in Wales.

“We hope that experts from our partner regions discover that in Wales we have made some really exciting new discoveries that can help them back in their own countries.”

Source: Forestry Commission press release

Date: 19/03/2009

New tree species found in car park


Scientists who discovered a new species of tree standing beside a country road have named it “no parking” after a sign that was nailed to the trunk, according to a report in the Independent newspaper.

A team of botanists found the tree in a north Devon lay-by while working on a project in which 14 new species and hybrids across the British Isles were discovered.

It was known locally as the No Parking Tree and the nickname has stuck as it is listed in Watsonia, the scientific journal of the Botanical Society of the British Isles, as no parking whitebeam.

The tree’s scientific name is Sorbus admonitor, meaning to admonish or tell off, and it grows at Watersmeet, between the villages of Lynton and Lynmouth.

The research project, led by Dr Tim Rich, head of vascular plants at the National Museum Wales, involved academics from the University of Wales, Bristol University, Exeter University, Oxford University and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

Source: Independent newspaper

Date: 06/03/2009

Old elm ‘may help save other trees’


Experts hope an elm tree that survived the ravages of Dutch elm disease could hold the key to the species survival in the UK, the BBC News website reports.

The elm was discovered in a Worcestershire hedgerow, near Pershore, two years ago.

It had remained unnoticed because it was assumed all elms in the area had been wiped out by the disease.

The condition, which is carried by a bark beetle, has affected more than 20 million elm trees in the UK since 1970.

Now, Pershore College has taken cuttings from the newly discovered tree and has just planted the first of them.

Bob Hares, from the college, which specialises in horticulture, said that growing cuttings from old trees was difficult.

“The idea is usually to take cuttings from the young trees, which root much more readily, and build up from there,” he said.

The team will not know if these cuttings have the resistance of what they call the “mother tree” until they are about 10 to 15 years old, but they are hopeful.

Now the search is on for other elms that have survived and may also be resistant to Dutch elm disease.

The biggest problem for the college’s team is that most of us do not know what an elm looks like.

John Clarke works for Kemerton Conservation Trust, which works to preserve the natural landscape of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.

He said it would be mostly people older than 40 who would be able to recognise elms, “especially people who know trees like farmers and naturalists”.

Elms were once known as the “weed of Worcestershire”. The hope is there are more survivor trees out there to rebuild this much missed part of our landscape.

Anyone who sees a mature elmin the area is urged to contact the conservation trust.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 06/03/2009

Bleeding cankers continues to take its toll


The avenue of 43 horse chestnut trees at Barrington Court, near Ilminster, in Somerset is being cut down and replaced with a variety of oak, the Telegraph reports.

The National Trust decided the trees had do go for safety reasons, following an infection of bleeding canker that causes the trees to lose bark and branches and eventually die.

The Trust has already had to cull a number of other horse chestnuts at properties around the country, with 28 trees recently chopped down in Avebury, Wiltshire.

Home-owners around the country have also had to cut down horse chestnuts because of the disease, which the Forestry Commission say has killed 3,000 tree in recent years.

The disease is spread by spores in the ground and can cause the tree to bleed a reddish brown liquid. It can be controlled by cutting out infected areas but will eventually kill the tree.

Christine Brain, head gardener at Barrington Court, said: “Bleeding canker is rife in England’s horse chestnuts.

“It kills the tree from the inside out, and while doing so makes it susceptible to other infections which hasten the trees death.

“We’ve been maintaining the trees over the last few years in an effort to extend their life and keep the disease as controlled as possible, but removal is now our only sensible option.”

Horticulturalists have warned that conker trees are in danger of dying out in Britain unless more is done to control the disease.

The call comes as the UK government announced a £25m package to curb the spread of sudden oak death through woodlands in England, Wales and Scotland.

Source: Telegraph newspaper

Date: 03/03/2009


Plant diseases threaten woodlands


Some of the finest gardens and woodlands in Britain are under threat from two closely related and aggressive fungus-like plant diseases, the BBC News website reports.

UK Environment Minister Jane Kennedy said they were attacking “pristine” locations and could potentially damage the landscape and the tourism industry.

The government has allocated £25m in a bid to eradicate the diseases which are spreading across the country.

They are Phytophthora kernoviae and Phytophthora ramorum .

Rhododendrons, a carrier of both diseases, are likely to be removed in woodland in order to curb the spread of the pathogens.

The flowering shrubs, popular as an ornamental species in many gardens, also grow wild in wooded areas and an area of the New Forest has already been cordoned off to allow rhododendrons to be cut down and burned.

Phytophthora kernoviae , first found in the south-west of England in 2003, reached Scotland five years later.

It attacks and kills many trees and shrubs, including the oak and beech trees which make up so much of Britain’s woodlands.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says 69 sites in England and Wales are currently affected, with Cornwall the worst-hit region.

Phytophthora ramorum , first identified in 1995, has devastated woodland on the west coast of the United States where it has been responsible for the syndrome known as “sudden oak death”.

Few control mechanisms exist for the disease, so the importance of early detection – and proper disposal of the infected plant material – is key.

The government is to earmark some of the money for new research and development, and there will be a campaign to make landowners aware of the threat.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 03/03/2009

Lost golf ball found embedded in tree


A lost golf ball has been found embedded deep in the trunk of a tree at a golf club in Norfolk, UK, the Telegraph reports.

The tree had apparently grown around the ball which had probably been lodged in its branches many years ago.

It was discovered when Richard Mitchell, greenkeeper at the Eaton club in Norwich, felled the conifer and cut it into pieces, only to find the ball perfectly encased in the wood.

Club manager Peter Johns said: “It’s an incredible find.

“It was pure luck that it was discovered. If Richard had cut the trunk an inch or two either way we’d never have known the ball was there.

“We think the ball came off the first tee, went into the trees and was lost.

“It must have lodged in a fork or embedded itself in the trunk and the tree just grew round it.”

Club officials now plan to use the cross-section as unique honour board to record all holes-in-one at the short ninth hole.

The trees were felled during the winter maintenance programme after they were found to be dying and were draining much-needed moisture from the ninth green.

Source: Telegraph newspaper

Date: 20/02/2009

Indonesia favours palm oil over peatlands


The Indonesian government will allow developers to convert millions of hectares of land for oil palm plantations, reports Mongabay.com.

The decision threatens to undermine Indonesia’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land use and fashion itself as a leader on the environment among tropical countries.

Gatot Irianto, head of research and development for the Agriculture Ministry, said the department is drafting a decree that would allow the drainage and conversion of peatland areas into oil palm estates.

“We still need land for oil palm plantations,” he told the Jakarta Post during a conference organised by the National Commission on Climate Change.

“We’ve discussed the draft with stakeholders, including hard-line activists, to convince them that converting peatland is safe,” he added.

“We promise to promote eco-friendly management to ward off complaints from overseas buyers and international communities.”

Degradation and destruction of peatlands in Indonesia results in hundreds of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Generally, developers dig a canal to drain the land, extract valuable timber, before clearing the vegetation using fire.

In dry years these fires can burn for months, contributing to the “haze” that plagues south-east Asian with increasing frequency.

Fires in peatlands are especially persistent, since they can continue to smolder underground for years even after surface fires are extinguished by monsoon rains.

While burning releases enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, merely draining peatlands also contributes to global warming. Once exposed to air, the peat oxidises, leading to decomposition and the relsease of carbon dioxide.

A study led by UK researcher Dr Susan Page from the University of Leicester found that producing one tonne of palm oil on peatland resulted in the release of up to 70 tonnes over 25 years as a result of forest conversion, peat loss and emissions from slash-and-burn fires.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 15/02/2009

UK to set tougher timber measures


From the beginning of April, only certified timber and timber products will be able to be used on UK government properties and projects, according to a press release from the UK Forestry Commission.

The material will have to originate either from independently verified legal and sustainable sources or from a licensed Forest Law Enforcement, Governance & Trade (FLEGT) partner.

The change will initially apply to England, Great Britain and UK departments and their executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies.

It is anticipated that the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will follow suit in the near future.

Other public bodies, including local authorities, will be encouraged to follow the government’s lead.

The Forestry Commission says the new policy is designed to combat illegal and unsustainable logging.

It is described as a key element in the effort to help reduce and mitigate climate change by tackling deforestation, which is a threat to societies and the environment around the world.

The UK is a major importer of timber, and the government is at the forefront of global efforts to encourage legal and sustainable management of the world’s forests.

Under the new guidelines, government buyers will have to request evidence from contractors and suppliers that the wood products they propose to supply comply with the policy.

This evidence can take two forms:

Category A – independent certification of the timber and timber products by any of the forest certification schemes that meet the policy requirements, such as those endorsed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC).

Category B – includes alternative documentary evidence that the source forest is known and that it is legally and sustainably managed.

Defra, the Government department with lead responsibility for sustainable timber procurement, has established the Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET) to provide training and a free support helpline to public-sector buying agencies and their timber suppliers.

Official figures suggest that about 23% of the timber sold in the UK is sold to government or public bodies.

The Forestry Commission estimates that 80% all timber produced in the UK is certified, including two-thirds of private-sector production, therefore meeting the criteria for Category A timber.

As for Category B, the benchmark for sustainable forest management in the UK is the UK Forestry Standard.

The Forestry Commission and Northern Ireland Forest Service are currently revising the Standard to bring it up-to-date and ensure it is consistent with international criteria.

When this process is completed, compliance with the revised Standard should provide a sound basis for demonstrating sustainable management under CPET Category B.

In the interim, the Commission and Forest Service are working closely with Defra to establish an appropriate protocol to enable all woodland owners to continue to meet the Government’s new procurement criteria from 1st April 2009.

Source: Forestry Commission press release

Date:  02/02/2009

Firm to trial bleeding canker ‘cure’


Arboriculture specialists may have found a cure for bleeding canker in horse chestnut trees, Horticulture Week reports.

It says arboculturalist consultancy Jonathan Cocking Associates (JCA) will trial a newly patented product with English Heritage.

JCA managing director Jonathan Cocking said he was trademarking the product, which kills canker bacterium in trees’ vascular systems.

Plugs of bark are removed around the chestnut, he explains, and a tree infusion is screwed into the holes.

The process takes an hour and after a year the tree refoliates, he adds.

“We are rolling it out with a few high-profile programmes including one with English Heritage.

“The treatment is invasive, but it’s a natural product.

“It’s better to get cracking and save a few trees than run a 10-year study programme only to find at the end of it that all the horse chestnuts have died.”

JCA, based in Halifax, West Yorkshire, has worked with a Dutch firm on the cure and hopes to license the product later in 2009.

Source: Horticulture Week

Date: 16/01/2009

Landmark agreement for England’s trees


The Forestry Commission and Natural England have joined forces with more than 100 organisations, representing woodland owners, forestry businesses, conservation and local communities to create a new five-year action plan for trees and woodlands in England.

A press release from the Forestry Commission said that the ultimate goal of the new partnership was to deliver a healthier landscape for wildlife and an increase in people visiting woodlands for leisure and tourism by 2020.

The local environment and local communities will be improved with more, high-quality, wooded greenspace close to where people live and a revival of trees in our streets.

It added that the management of the both small, private woods and large commercial forestry will provide greater use of home-grown wood in construction and woodfuel,

Speaking at the launch of the scheme, Forestry Minister Huw Irranca-Davies said: “There are more than a million hectares of woodland and forest in England today.

“Trees make a big difference to people’s quality of life and wellbeing, improving the places where we live, work and play.

“People need to be able to get involved in planning, managing and looking after their local woodlands and trees, and the plan launched today will help us to make the most of our trees to combat climate change, protect wildlife, and yield other social, economic and environmental benefits.”

Forestry Commission chairman Lord Clark of Windermere added: “These are important and exciting times for trees, woods and forests in England as they face the challenges of climate change while providing a range of benefits to people, wildlife and to our economy.

He went on to say: “This new plan is testament to those people representing landowners, businesses, communities, local councils and government who worked together to secure the future for our trees, woods and forests.”

Sir Martin Doughty, chairman of Natural England, acknowledged the crucial role that trees played in ecological and economic terms, as well as adding to people’s quality of life.

“These benefits are increasingly being recognised, but they can only be secured through careful long term planning and co-ordinated action,” he said.

“Today’s Delivery Plan has been created through working closely with a wide range of organisations and local communities and marks a major step forward in securing a sustainable future for our woodlands.”

Source: Forestry Commission press release

Date: 15/12/2008

UK and Indonesia sign climate pact


The UK and Indonesian governments have signed a deal to establish a working group focusing on climate change and the environment, a press release from the UK’s Department for Energy and Climate Change has announced.

The group aims to improve forest conservation, develop renewable energy sources, promote energy efficiency measures, as well as working with communities to help them adapt to the consequences of climate change.

UK Energy Minister Ed Miliband welcomed the agreement saying: “Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing our world and we are the generation who must take action.

“We can only succeed if all nations work together – our governments, business networks and communities,” he told reporters.

“The UK and Indonesia have much to learn from one another; about the circumstances we have to deal with, the opportunities available to us and the solutions that could help both countries do our bit to tackle climate change.”

The working group will provide a framework for consultation and co-operation on a number of areas including:

  • Identify opportunities for developing activities on land use, land-use change and forestry and implementing demonstration activities under REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) as set out under the UNFCCC
  • Promote sustainable management of palm oil production, including through engagement with the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil and other relevant stakeholders
  • Provide technical assistance on climate risks and adaptation strategies with a view to develop local adaptation strategies
  • Explore opportunities for cooperation on development, deployment, diffusion, and transfer of sustainable low carbon technologies, particularly on renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies

Source: Department for Energy and Climate Change press release

Date: 12/12/2008

Researchers discover secret of plants’ ‘double fertilisation’ mystery


An enigma, unique to flowering plant, has been solved by a team of researchers from the UK and South Korea, reports Science Daily.

It was already known that flowering plants, unlike animals require not one, but two sperm cells for successful fertilisation.

However, how the “double fertilisation” was achieved from a single pollen grain, which then led to “twin” sperm cells, remained a mystery.

The process results in one sperm cell joining with the egg cell to produce the embryo, while the other to joins with a second cell in the ovary to produce the endosperm, a nutrient-rich tissue, inside the seed.

Double fertilisation is essential for fertility and seed production in flowering plants so increased understanding of the process is important.

Now Professor David Twell, of the Department of Biology at the University of Leicester and Professor Hong Gil Nam of POSTECH, South Korea, writing in the Journal Nature, report the discovery of a gene that has a critical role in allowing precursor reproductive cells to divide to form twin sperm cells.

Professor Twell said: “This collaborative project has produced results that unlock a key element in a botanical puzzle.

“The key discovery is that this gene, known as FBL17, is required to trigger the destruction of another protein that inhibits cell division,” he added.

“The FBL17 gene therefore acts as a switch within the young pollen grain to trigger precursor cells to divide into twin sperm cells.

“Plants with a mutated version of this gene produce pollen grains with a single sperm cell instead of the pair of sperm that are required for successful double fertilisation.

“Interestingly, the process employed by plants to control sperm cell reproduction was found to make use of an ancient mechanism found in yeast and in animals involving the selective destruction of inhibitor proteins that otherwise block the path to cell division.

“Removal of these blocks promotes the production of a twin sperm cell cargo in each pollen grain and thus ensures successful reproduction in flowering plants.

“This discovery is a significant step forward in uncovering the mysteries of flowering plant reproduction.

“This new knowledge will be useful in understanding the evolutionary origins of flowering plant reproduction and may be used by plant breeders to control crossing behaviour in crop plants.

“In the future such information may become increasingly important as we strive to breed superior crops that maintain yield in a changing climate.

“Given that flowering plants dominate the vegetation of our planet and that we are bound to them for our survival, it is heartening that we are one step closer to understanding their reproductive secrets.”

Researchers at the University of Leicester are continuing their investigation into plant reproduction.

Further research underway in Professor Twell’s laboratory is already beginning to reveal the answers to secrets about how the pair of sperm cells produced within each pollen grain aquires the ability to fertilise.

Prof Twell’s work, in the Department of Biology at the University of Leicester is financially supported by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Research Council (BBSRC).

Source: Science Daily

Date: 23/10/2008

Autumn watch on both sides of the Atlantic


Tree lovers on both sides of the Atlantic are able to make sure that they do not miss out on the colourful delights of autumn, thanks to the websites of the US Forest Service and the UK Forestry Commission.

The US Forest Service is offering people a free “hotline”,  which is an automated phone service that will inform callers about the colour of the leaves in the national forests.

Meanwhile in the UK, the Forestry Commission has set up a website that offers a colour-coded website of the commission’s plantations. The website shows what colour the leaves of the various woodlands have reached (ranging from “still green” to “turned golden”).

Although the UK experienced a much wetter than average August, an official for the Forestry Commission said that the woodlands were still “on course” for a colourful autumn.

Source: US Forest Service and UK Forestry Commission websites

Date: 24/09/2008

Ancient trees recorded in US mines


Spectacular fossil forests have been found in the coal mines of Illinois by a US-UK team of researchers, writes BBC News science reporter Jonathan Amos.

The group reported one discovery last year, but has since identified a further five examples.

The ancient vegetation – now turned to rock – is visible in the ceilings of mines covering thousands of hectares.

These were among the first forests to evolve on the planet, Dr Howard Falcon-Lang told the British Association Science Festival in Liverpool.

“These are the largest fossil forests found anywhere in the world at any point in geological time,” he told reporters.

“It is quite extraordinary to find a fossil landscape preserved over such a vast area; and we are talking about an area the size of (the British city of) Bristol.”

The forests grew just a few million years apart some 300 million years ago; and are now stacked one on top of another.

It appears the ancient land experienced repeated periods of subsidence and flooding which buried the forests in a vertical sequence.

They have since become visible because of the extensive mining operations in the border area between the states of Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky.

Once the coal seams have been removed (what were, essentially, the compacted soils of the forests), it is possible to go into the tunnels and look up at what would have been lying on the forest floors.

“It’s a really exciting experience to drive down into these mines; it’s pitch black,” the Bristol University research said.

“It’s kind of an odd view looking at a forest bottom-up. You can actually see upright tree stumps that are pointed vertically up above your head with the roots coming down; and adjacent to those tree stumps you see all the litter.

“We found 30m-long trunks that had fallen with their crowns perfectly preserved.”

The researchers believe their study of these ancient forests could give hints to how modern rainforests might react in a warmer world.

The six forests straddle a period in Earth history 306 million years ago that saw a rapid shift from an icehouse climate with big polar ice caps to a greenhouse climate in which the ice caps would have melted.

“The fascinating thing we’ve discovered is that the rainforests dramatically collapse approximately coincident with the greenhouse warming,” explained Dr Falcon-Lang.

“Long-lived forests dominated by giant club moss trees almost overnight (in a geological sense) are replaced by rather weedy fern vegetation.”

The next stage of the research is to try to refine the timings of events all those years ago, and work out the exact environmental conditions that existed. The thresholds that triggered the ancient collapse can then be compared with modern circumstances.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 08/09/2008

UK woodland birds ‘in decline’


The latest Breeding Bird Survey for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), in partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, has highlighted a significant decline in woodland bird species, writes the woodlands.co.uk blog.

It says that the annual survey has revealed numbers down by more than 50% in several species, the worst hit being the willow tit down by 77%.

The reason for the decline is not obvious, the blog adds.

“It isn’t due to loss of habitat – there is more woodland in the UK today than there has ever been, and, on the whole, modern woodland management is more sympathetic to environmental concerns.

“The Farm Woodland Scheme and Farm Woodland Premium Scheme have also encouraged the planting of small woodlands.”

It suggests the fall in breeding woodland bird species may be the result of a change to the composition and structure of the UK’s woodlands.

“Traditional methods of management such as coppicing provide a perfect habitat for warblers and nightingales, for instance,” woodlands.co.uk reports.

“The coppicing process whereby the wood is regularly cut back creates open woodland with plenty of undergrowth for nesting. Where coppice is left to grow unchecked, eventually the canopy closes and the undergrowth is shaded out.

“Mature woodland with a closed canopy supports tree-dwelling birds such as the woodpecker, but offers a less diverse selection of species overall.”

The blog highlights a possible connection between the fall in bird numbers and the growing population of deer: “Many woodland species like the woodland edges and open areas where there is shrubby, low-level cover.

“An explosion in the number of deer in the UK has had a noticeable impact on just this sort of habitat through grazing at the herb and low shrub level. It is quite likely that this is making a serious impact on woodland bird numbers.”

Migration has also been suggested as a factor.

Several British woodland birds, such as the wood warbler, are annual summer visitors that overwinter in sub-Saharan Africa. It has been suggested that drought in that region may be having an effect.

Citing studies in the Netherlands, the blog post by Catherine also suggested that reduction of habitat quality through traffic noise from nearby roads could have significantly affected local woodland bird populations.

Source: woodlands.co.uk

Date: 22/08/2008

Yew cuttings help cancer research


An operation is under way to prune the yew hedges at an estate in Wales, and help the fight against cancer at the same time, the BBC News website reports.

The annual task at Chirk Castle takes up to eight weeks to finish, and results in about three tonnes of clippings.

They are then bought by a company which transports them to be processed into chemotherapy drugs.

The castle’s head gardener, David Lock, said it was “brilliant” to think they were helping develop anti-cancer drugs.

The drugs docetaxel and paclitaxel are developed from yew trees.

Both drugs can also be made synthetically, but yew needles are still collected and used across Britain.

At Chirk, they are bought and collected by Doncaster-based Friendship Estates, which claims they are used as the raw material for anti-cancer drugs, particularly breast and ovarian cancers.

The company’s website said clippings should be one year’s growth, because the required chemical is concentrated in greener areas of the plant.

The statuesque hedges, which line the main gardens and are dotted throughout 11 acres of grounds, were planted in 1872.

The castle, built by Edward I, is more than 700 years old and is surrounded by 500 acres of parkland.

Debbie Coats, clinical information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “There are two common chemotherapy drugs developed from Yew trees.

“One of them, docetaxel (Taxotere), first made from the needles of the European yew. The other, paclitaxel (Taxol) and was made from the bark of the Pacific yew.

“These are used to treat some breast, prostate and ovarian cancers. Both drugs are manufactured in the lab but the needles are collected and sold to the drug industry for this purpose.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 18/08/2008

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